Ever since its debut in 1982 at the Lyric Hammersmith itself, undertaking a production of Noises Off is a bit like attempting a triple axel in the figure skating final at the Olympics. The precision and grace required to land this farce’s potential is so extreme that the audience’s tension ramps up. If the cast’s timing succeeds, not only are the funnies so non-stop that you might just need a change of knickers but there is a special jubilance in being party to such a conquest that risked disaster by a matter of seconds. But if the performers drop a single note or sight-gag, 600 paying customers witness a catastrophe that might traumatise them forever. Such is the dare-devil nature of undertaking the direction of Frayn’s 3-act award-winning comedy that one wonders if it holds a particular allure for adrenaline junkies or masochists? Regardless, it absolutely requires direction that is as much orchestration and choreography as it is interpretation. In fact, if the director attempts to try to get clever with meaning or a new take on this classic, it could well be fatal.
As such, Noises Off is a wonderful showcase for talent and is not a place to go for ‘challenging re-imaginings’. I am pleased to report that even the Russian judges would give Mr Herrin a ‘6’ for technical perfection. As the model of backstage comedies, this play is a meta-farce and in some places a triple-farce. Having ridiculed the pretensions, personal conflicts and talent-limitations of a regional theatre touring company, the bar is already set incredibly high to demonstrate these (meta)players are the real deal whilst sending-up lesser actors.
However, like all endeavours that require technical precision, the main ingredients necessary to enable any production of this play to succeed are talent, practice, and nerve. Herrin has assembled an outstanding cast of well-known comic actors (such as Meera Syal of The Kumars fame playing the actress who plays the sardine-obsessed-housekeeper) and exciting newcomers like Enyi Okoronkwo (as Tim Allgood the beleaguered assistant to the director-would-be-actor) and has made sure they all gel as much as they commit to one fearless pratfall or de-trousering after another.
Daniel Rigby as Garry Lejeune earns special points for embracing a highly physical performance that also leaves our hearts in our mouths. Lois Chimimba has an impressive CV already but as one of the more junior members of the cast is exciting to watch as she gracefully straddles a romantic and comic role. She may not be a total newcomer, but she is a promising face to follow further. Indeed, in Lyndsey Posner’s 2011 Old Vic production, he made rather more of the romance and broken-heart storyline of the Poppy/Frederick Fellow (director of the hapless regional players)/ Brooke love triangle. Posner’s choice added a little too much schmaltz at the expense of hilarity. Eight long years later, Herrin has rightly judged that in a society now plagued with even greater division and despair, no laugh should be spared and every shambolic moment of the world slipping through our fingers should be offered as tonic to an audience living lives as beleaguered and absurd as the cast of ‘Nothing On’.
Set, lighting and sound designers Max Jones, Amy Mae and Lorna Munden have a lot of heavy lifting to deliver the technical excellence this performance needs and kudos to them. Again, the set is not a place for clever expressionistic re-imagining, but must be both functional and credible on every level, as must the lighting and sound. The design team deliver on their mission. Indeed, costumes and wigs/hair/make-up have the same job to do and also triumph thanks to Susanna Peretz. The whole crew deserve significant credit with the stakes of potential failure raised so high and their supporting theatrical roles as non-performers drawn into focus through the backstage subject matter.
Noises Off is a success and a fitting and much-needed farce for hostile-environment Britain 2019. Treat yourself to a laugh and admire the high-wire act!
Review by Mary Beer
Noises Off premiered at the Lyric Hammersmith in 1982 and instantly became an iconic British comedy.
With technical brilliance and split-second timing, it takes us behind the scenes with a company of actors in a hilarious and heartfelt tribute to the unpredictability of life in the theatre.
Hailed as one of the funniest plays of all time, Noises Off makes its triumphant return to the Lyric almost 40 years on, in a bold new production by Jeremy Herrin (All My Sons, Wolf Hall, This House) for fans to enjoy and new audiences to discover.
The cast includes Lois Chimimba, Jonathan Cullen, Debra Gillett, Amy Morgan, Enyi Okoronkwo, Lloyd Owen, Daniel Rigby, Simon Rouse and Meera Syal.
Written by Michael Frayn
Directed by Jeremy Herrin
Designed by Max Jones
Lighting by Amy Mae
Sound by Lorna Munden
Movement by Joyce Henderson
Fights by Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown
Casting by Wendy Spon CDG and Sam Stevenson CDG
By Michael Frayn. Directed by Jeremy Herrin.
27 Jun ‐ 03 Aug 2019